It’s no secret that the Big Apple is full of impressive architecture, and a visit to this city isn’t complete without admiring the famous buildings of New York.
During our time living on the East Coast, we were able to visit Manhattan several times, and the looming towers, iconic skyscrapers, and famous structures never ceased to amaze us. You don’t have to be a designer or architect to appreciate New York City’s historic buildings. Some of them you can visit from the outside, while others are worth going inside and checking out the interior.
Also, many of these landmarks are included in New York’s attraction passes, so if you plan on seeing two or more of them, I recommend getting a pass. You can read our guide to learn more about the card options, although I highly recommend the New York Pass. It offers single and multi-day cards that can save you up to 41% on some of the most famous places in New York.
Now, here are the top 10 iconic New York buildings I recommend!
1. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, one of the most famous buildings in New York City
Taking up a full city block along Fifth Avenue, St. Patrick’s Cathedral is one of the most famous churches in New York City. It’s also the largest Neo-Gothic Catholic church in the United States, standing nearly 330 feet tall and holding 3,000 parishioners.
The church is dedicated to St. Patrick of Ireland and holds regular masses as well as concerts. From the outside, you can see the cathedral’s large bronze doors, which weigh over 9,000 lbs. and feature beautiful relief sculptures of several patron saints.
Even if you’re not religious, I recommend going inside the church. It has some of the best architecture in New York City, combining faith and art through altars, shrines, pipe organs, and a replica of Michelangelo’s Pietà sculpture. The gorgeous stained-glass windows are a must-see, especially the rose window, which creates a breathtaking glow over the interior.
2. Rockefeller Plaza, a famous NY building you must see
Rockefeller Plaza is a New York skyscraper that you cannot miss. Not only is it huge, but it’s the site for all kinds of activities and attractions.
The 850-foot-tall, Art Deco-style structure was built in the 1930s and was instantly called one of the greatest projects to come out of the Great Depression. Its underground concourse is full of shops and restaurants, and its popular skating rink sits in front of the property. If you visit NYC at Christmastime, you can see the famous Rockefeller Christmas Tree here.
Rockefeller Plaza’s main entrance is adorned with a three-arch sculpture called Wisdom, A Voice from the Clouds, although that’s not the only artwork you’ll see here. An 18-foot bronze sculpture of Prometheus overlooks the skating rink and painted murals line the walls of the lobby. Other interesting pieces include the bronze Atlas statue and The Joy of Life above the 48th Street entrance.
Inside this famous NYC building, you’ll find NBC Studios’ headquarters and filming locations for shows like Saturday Night Live. Not only is Rockefeller Center a National Historic Landmark, but it offers incredible views, especially from the rooftop garden and the Rainbow Room, an event space on the 65th floor.
3. Chrysler Building, New York’s famous Art Deco building
The Chrysler Building is another Art Deco-style skyscraper, and one of the most iconic buildings in New York. It’s easily recognizable thanks to its 125-foot steel spire, and while it’s no longer the tallest building in NYC, it’s still impressive, at 1,050 feet tall.
This National Historic Landmark is one of the best places in New York City and a major part of the Manhattan skyline. Its steel frame features a black and gray-striped façade, a seven-arched crown, and ornamental eagles. The sculptural birds and gargoyles on the building’s exterior are an homage to Chrysler cars, which was founded in 1925.
The Chrysler Building has some of the most famous architecture in New York, and you can see it from different viewpoints. My favorite is the Tudor City Bridge at 42nd Street and 1st Avenue. If you visit during the Manhattan Solstice, the sun aligns with the skyscrapers, creating a stunning photo op.
Inside, the Chrysler Building is reserved for corporate offices, but you can enter the lobby and see the Art Deco-style décor. It’s worth seeing its relics from the past, like the patterned wood elevators and 1920s-style lamps.
4. Empire State Building, one of the tallest buildings in NYC
It’s no surprise that the Empire State Building is one of the top buildings to visit in New York. We even have a guide to the Empire State Building with information on its observation deck. You can get tickets here, and admission is included in the New York Pass.
With 102 floors, this famous tower in New York is one of the tallest structures in the Big Apple, at 1,454 feet. Its Art Deco architecture and 200-foot spire make it a staple of the Manhattan skyline, and at night, it’s illuminated by colorful LEDs.
As you get closer to the Empire State Building, you can see its gilded metallic elements, glasswork, and sculpted motifs like starbursts and eagles. The revolving bronze doors leading to the lobby are etched with artistic depictions of electricity, heating, and masonry – the three trades used to construct the building.
In the lobby, there are marble interiors, a beautiful aluminum relief of the Empire State Building, and terrazzo-tile floors. Be sure to look up at the ceiling to see the painted mural, which shows a celestial sky of 23-karat stars, gold-leaf sunbursts, and gears as an homage to the Machine Age of the mid-20th century.
5. Flatiron Building, a famous New York building with impressive architecture
The Flatiron Building is one of the coolest buildings in New York City, although you should be careful if you suffer from vertigo. This impressive structure is 285 feet tall, yet at its narrowest part, it’s just 6.5 feet wide, creating a 25° angle.
This flattened architectural masterpiece resembles a clothing iron, granting it the name the Flatiron Building. Today, it’s among the top historic buildings in New York City, and although you can’t go inside, the exterior is worth a closer look.
The terracotta and stone skyscraper was carefully built around a steel skeleton. While its design was inspired by French and Italian Renaissance art, it’s a Beaux-Arts-style building. You can see elements of this style in the Flatiron Building’s double columns, balustrades, statuesque figures, and bas-reliefs. If you look closely, you can see lion heads and Greek faces peering down at you!
6. Grand Central Terminal, one of the most famous buildings in New York
Grand Central Terminal is another landmark building in New York with a lot of artistic and architectural merit. This iconic train terminal is over 100 years old and today, sees nearly a million people pass through it daily.
This beautiful Beaux-Arts-style building has several intriguing rooms and sections to walk through, as well as dozens of shops and restaurants. Several French architects and artists worked on the terminal, creating unique works and pieces.
For example, the terminal’s south façade features a 13-foot-wide clock, cast-iron eagles, and sculptures of Roman figures Hercules, Mercury, and Minerva. On the ground sits an 8.5-foot bronze statue of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the patriarch of one of the richest families in the U.S. The Vanderbilt family is memorialized in the oak leaf and acorn motifs through Grand Central Terminal.
Another focal point is the Main Concourse’s celestial ceiling mural, featuring 2,500 gold stars and constellations like Orion and Pegasus. You can find another ceiling mural in the Graybar Passage, as well as additional artwork like the Sirshasana chandelier and the bronze-and-glass mosaic, As Above, So Below.
The design and architecture of Grand Central Terminal make it one of the best places to see in Manhattan, so even if you aren’t commuting, be sure to stop by.
7. Guggenheim Museum, another unique and famous New York building
Of all the museums in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum is the most architecturally stunning. Located on the Upper East Side, it’s part of the 20th-Century Architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wright wanted to create a “temple of the spirit” to house an impressive collection of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist, and Non-Objective art. The result of his vision was an inverted ziggurat that appears to be made of white ribbon. As the form winds upward, it creates a rotunda.
Inside, a continuous ramp runs from the ground level to the top floor, with galleries branching off at each level. The rotunda is topped with a huge domed skylight that makes you feel like you’re inside a spiral seashell.
This iconic New York building was constructed in 1959 and is considered a monument to the Modernism movement. If you’re a fan of art or Frank Lloyd Wright, this museum is a must-see. Wright even included his initials in the building’s exterior, in red tile.
8. New York Public Library, a famous building in NYC to visit with kids
The New York Public Library, specifically the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, is a bibliophile’s dream. Located next to Bryant Park, this research library and National Historic Landmark boasts over two million books and incredible Beaux-Arts-style architecture.
This is one of the most famous buildings in Manhattan, and it’s open to the public although you can’t take out any books if you’re not an NYC resident. Still, you can explore four floors of the library and admire its ornate and intricate beauty.
The library’s marble façade is adorned with two stone lions. Named “Patience” and “Fortitude,” the lions are a favorite among visitors, especially kids. If you look up, you can see the wrap-around balcony and a series of sculpted figures above the entrance.
Inside, a series of columns and archways beckon you to the children’s library. The first-floor lobby boasts 34-foot ceilings and bronze busts of Carrère and Hastings, the architects in charge of designing this important New York building.
Ascend the marble staircase to see the Rose Main Reading Room. This notable space seats over 600 people and is often filled with studious scholars and bookworms. Don’t forget to look up and admire the huge ceiling mural, which depicts a cloud-filled sky with angels and cherubs.
It’s also worth seeing the McGraw Rotunda on the third floor. Its domed ceiling, red marble accents, and Corinthian columns are exquisite. There is also a series of Edward Laning murals here, including a ceiling fresco of Prometheus.
9. The Plaza Hotel, a famous building in New York you can stay in
Odds are, you’ve seen the Plaza Hotel on the big screen. This luxurious building in NYC has appeared in several movies, including Funny Girl, The Way We Were, and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Of course, walking through this chateau-style landmark building in New York is much better than seeing it on a screen.
The Plaza Hotel, which also has condo apartments, has an awesome location at Central Park South. From the outside, you can see its green-tiled mansard roof, copper trim, and marble façade. It was modeled after the French Renaissance style, and its white brick columns and balustrade rise 21 stories high.
The hotel is even more beautiful on the inside. The main lobby has an overhanging mezzanine with Italian marble finishes, gold trim, and a crystal chandelier. Lovely marble mosaic floors lead the way to the hotel rooms, the ballroom, and several restaurants.
If you want to eat here, check out the Oak Room, a German Renaissance-style restaurant built in 1907. It has oak floors, French furniture, walnut woodwork, and frescoes of Bavarian castles. Another gorgeous restaurant is The Palm Court, a high-ceiled tearoom with lush greenery.
10. One World Trade Center, another famous building in NYC you must see
Last but not least, One World Trade Center, also known as the Freedom Tower, is one of the best buildings in NYC. It’s impossible to miss, as it’s the tallest building in New York City and the 7th tallest in the world.
One World Trade Center is 1,776 feet tall, which was deliberate to correspond to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. It’s made of glass and steel, and its 43,600 windows reflect the light at different times of the day. At night, LED lights illuminate the base of the structure, while the spire atop the tower shines a beam of light 1,000 feet into the sky.
The coolest part about One WTC is the One World Observatory. It’s one of NYC’s best observation decks, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering 360° views over Manhattan. If you want to experience the feeling of being 1,268 feet above the city, you can get your ticket here or use your New York Pass.
Not only is this one of the best buildings on the NYC skyline, but it’s next to the 9/11 Museum, which you can get a ticket for here. Alternatively, you can get this combo ticket to see the observatory and museum; it’s one of the top tours in NYC.
After learning about the most famous buildings in New York, which one are you most excited to visit? Tell me what you think in the comments below, and don’t forget to download this map of all the buildings in NYC I mentioned so you can plan your visit!
If you have any questions, feel free to leave them below; I’d be happy to help you out! Until then, have a wonderful time exploring the Big Apple!